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Exploring One of The Arctic’s Greatest Mysteries with Adventure Canada

The disappearance of the Franklin Expedition
 Captain Sir John Franklin

In 1845, British explorer Captain Sir John Franklin and his crew of 129 men left England aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in hopes of being the first Europeans to navigate through the famed Northwest Passage. After two years and no word from the expedition, it was assumed that something terrible had befallen them. Numerous expeditions attempted to locate the missing men alive, but they were largely unsuccessful and often ended in tragedy for the search parties.

An 1844 drawing depicts the Erebus and Terror as they set off on their ill-fated journey.

Over the years, several discoveries were made that offered some clues to their fate. The first was the discovery of a winter camp and graves of three of the sailors on Beechey Island in 1850. After gathering Inuit reports of a party of Europeans who had starved to death near the mouth of the Black River, searchers discovered numerous relics of the expedition on King William Island in the 1850s and 60s. These included a cairn containing messages from the party stating that both ships had become frozen in the ice off the coast of King William Island. The crew had abandoned the ships, 24 officers and crew had died, and the survivors were headed towards the Black River on foot. Remains of several crew members and numerous items from the expedition were found, but there was no sign of the ships. The mystery of the Franklin expedition inspired countless books, plays, poems, songs, and paintings. 

Three graves from the lost 1845 Franklin Expedition, and a fourth from a later search expedition remain on Beechey Island. Photo by Dennis Minty
The discovery of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

The search continued for over 150 years, but it wasn’t until 2014, acting on tips from local Inuit, that a Canadian search team led by Parks Canada, located the wreck of HMS Erebus, just west of O’Reilly Island. In 2016, the Arctic Research Foundation located the wreck of HMS Terror south of King William Island. The wreck sites are now protected as a combined National Historic site, where research and dive expeditions are ongoing.

Adventure Canada brings the first visitors to the wreck of HMS Erebus
Adventure Canada passengers board the research site. Photo by Victoria Polsoni

On September 5th, Adventure Canada passengers, including Wells Gray Tours owners Roland and Anne Neave and guests Joan and Steve Niemeier were the first group of visitors to visit the site of the famous HMS Erebus shipwreck. After five failed attempts over a three-year period due to ice, wind, and rough seas the weather finally cooperated and allowed the group to visit the research site.

Research in action! Photo by Victoria Polsoni
The Inuit Guardians who protect the wreck site share their experiences during a presentation to Adventure Canada passengers. Photo by Victoria Polsoni

Here is Joan’s summary of what sounds like a spectacular arctic expedition cruise experience:

“On a recent cruise on board Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor that began in Kugluktuk (Coppermine), Nunavut and sailed through the Northwest Passage east to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland one of the highlights was a visit to the site of the wreck of Sir John Franklin’s HMS Erebus. The designated historical site is managed by Parks Canada and a team of local Inuit Guardians who camp near the site watching for unauthorized visitors or treasure seekers. All the elements aligned, and we were the first to visit both the RV David Thompson, a Parks Canada research vessel, and the dive barge where below us we could watch and communicate with the divers working on the site and view the artifacts as they were brought up. Being among the first to reach the site and enjoy time with the research team and divers was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

While this was definitely a cruise highlight, the opportunity to visit and meet the local Inuit people in Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven, and Grise Fjord where we enjoyed songs, dances, drumming, stories, and learned about traditional Inuit culture was part of the wonder of being in this remote part of Canada.

Every day was adventure either out on the land or looking for marine life in the water or on shore. All travel to and from the ship was done by zodiac as there are no docks for ships in these very remote areas. Sometimes due to the weather the ride in the zodiacs is as much a part of the excitement as travelling along glaciers faces or through the ice laden fjords. We saw an abundance of polar bears, beluga whales, seals, birds, humpbacks, as well as muskox and arctic hare.

When we were not busy on the land or the water there were lectures by arctic explorers, naturalists, geologists, archaeologist, ornithologists, and Inuit culturalists sharing customs and stories of life in the Arctic. On our last night on board the Endeavor we were even lucky enough to have a clear sky for a spectacular display of the Northern Lights.”

Roland and Anne Neave, and Joan and Steve Niemeier in Kuglukltuk, Nunuvut. Photo by Joan Niemeier
Plan your own arctic expedition with Adventure Canada

If you’ve been dreaming about exploring the fascinating history and natural beauty of the arctic, Adventure Canada specializes in arctic expedition cruises. Our knowledgeable team at Wells Gray Tours can help you select which tour is the best fit for you and book you directly on to any Adventure Canada departure. Call us to find out more!


Written by: Pam Jensen